When faced with a choice among wild political speculations, my rule of thumb is: Which would be more fun?
So, which scenario would be more fun: Gov. Charlie Crist bolting the Republicans and running for the U.S. Senate as an independent? Or Crist staying in the primary against Marco Rubio, in a smackdown billed as the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party?
After careful consideration, which came up tails, I am going with the second, henceforth known as the B.S.R.P.
Here's why. Either Crist is going to stage one of the great comebacks of all time, or else the most conservative wing of the Republican Party is going to knock off a sitting governor and win a tremendous, nationally significant victory.
This showdown seems more interesting than the prospect of Crist as a doomed independent. He would base that campaign on appealing to the Reasonable Middle, which just isn't big enough.
If I'm a teacher-union Democrat, am I really going to vote for ex-Republican Crist over my own guy Kendrick Meek in the general election? Democrats would have to make a deliberate, even orchestrated decision to do that. As for Republicans, even some who would have voted for him in the primary would be turned off by the party switch.
Nope, the best choice is the B.S.R.P. Most people smarter than me think the B.S.R.P. is a done deal. Crist is running up to 18 points behind in the polls and is flopping around like a fish on a dock. Rubio is the darling of the hour. There is a distinct and attractive scent of tea around him. But being not so smart, I am hangin' in there:
• Crist has a big pot of money, although admittedly much it came before Rubio caught fire. This cannot be overstated: Money works. It buys image and message.
• We already know everything we don't like about Crist. We have almost six months left to learn what we don't like about Rubio.
• Crist truly is a nice guy, and people want to like him. Beating up on him is like kicking a puppy. Rubio should not want to become too much of a favorite too early — beware the rebound.
• Anything can happen and usually does.
My conservative friends tell me that I say all this because, being a liberal-media type, I naturally prefer the squishy Crist to the real deal Rubio. But mostly, my bias is toward a more competitive race.
You know Crist's real problem? The breezy, slogan-driven populism of his entire career has proved insufficient for governing our state. That, as much as his hugging the president or taking stimulus money, is why he's on the ropes.
Yet for the past two decades his opponents, Republican and Democrat, have underestimated him as a lightweight — and lost to him. So! Bring me popcorn. Bring me the Truth-O-Meter. Bring on the B.S.R.P.